HOW TO HELP SOMEONE WITH ANXIETY | A SHORT LETTER
Credits: Manahil Naveed
Maneuvering through turbulent times, the number of individuals struck with anxiety disorders continue to rise. However, despite high levels of awareness regarding the disorder’s intense impact, individuals suffering with anxiety continue to fall prey to the societal stigmatization that hovers above Pakistani society like a storm-cloud.
Societal stigma, at its core, is the negative view imposed onto individuals that display traits often classified as “imperfections” or “flaws”, making it impossible for those in desperate need of professional help to seek it. Often undermined, individuals are told to “get closer to god and repent for their sins” or to simply “get over it” – such attitudes contribute to nothing but deterioration, putting individuals on the trajectory of self-destruction.
One of the key factors that makes stigma govern members of Pakistani society is the fact that it is intricately woven into the fabric of our nation, dispersing from one individual to the next over the span of several generations, prompting them to reject or exclude those that don’t check all the boxes that dictate their self-worth. The “it’s not life threatening unless it’s a disorder like cancer” mentality continues to eat away at the anxiety-struck individuals who cage their internal turmoil.
This begs the question – what can we do to be the backbone of individuals that suffer from anxiety?
While it may be tempting to jump to support such individuals, it is crucial to keep their delicate mental state in mind. While you may have the purest of intentions, anxiety manifests itself in a plethora of forms that vary from one condition to the next. When you understand that anxiety is designed to put us into a mode of threat sensitivity, it’s easier to understand someone who is feeling scared (or stressed) and acting out by being irritable or defensive, and to find compassion for them. By paying attention to how anxiety manifests in the person you care about, you can learn their patterns and be in a better position to help.
If your loved one has insight into their anxiety, you can help them spot when their anxiety-driven patterns are occurring. However, keep in mind that people who have insight into their anxiety often still feel compelled to “give in” to their anxious thoughts. For instance, a person with health anxiety might logically know that going to the doctor every week for multiple tests is unnecessary, but they can’t help themselves. If your loved one lacks insight into their anxiety or has trouble managing compulsions, it’s probably best to encourage them to see a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of anxiety.
You’ll be a more useful and supportive person if you educate yourself about cognitive-behavioral models of anxiety, which you can do by reading or attending a therapy session with your loved one. But, in lieu of that, you might try using some techniques that can be helpful to people suffering from anxiety.
Typically, anxious people have a natural bias towards thinking about worst-case scenarios. To help them get some perspective on this, you can use a cognitive therapy technique where you ask them to consider three questions:What’s the worst that could happen? What’s the best that could happen? What’s most realistic or likely?
Lastly, helping someone with anxiety isn’t always easy and you may feel like you’re getting it wrong. But, if you remind yourself that you and your loved one are both doing your best, it can help you keep things in perspective. It’s important to remain compassionate and, as the saying goes, to put on your own oxygen mask first. That way, you’ll have a clearer head for figuring out what’s going on with your anxious loved one and how you can truly be of help.